Over the last few days, controversy has surrounded a widely viewed clip where a Red Dead Redemption 2 player gleefully feeds an in-game feminist to an alligator. After the press reported that the clip had been viewed nearly a million times by commenters who cheered the action, the uploader temporarily got his entire channel terminated from YouTube. Hours later, YouTube reversed its decision and conceded that its content reviewers sometimes make “mistakes.”
The YouTube video in question first gained mainstream attention via Motherboard, a publication which linked to a YouTuber named Shirrako who had uploaded two contentious clips. The first, which has been viewed 1.6 million times, features Shirrako punching out a suffragette NPC who yells in a plaza about wanting the right to vote. Red Dead Redemption 2, a Western that takes place in 1899, allows players to talk to every character, allowing both friendly and aggressive options, depending on the player’s mood. While the game does not outright encourage any specific kind of behavior, it does come with a morality system that penalizes the player for breaking the law. In the first game, however, there was an achievement for hog-tying a woman and watching her get run over by a train.
The first clip, which occurred during a live stream, was happenstance, according to Shirrako — in a quote to Motherboard, the streamer explained that “the NPC is made to be rather annoying, when you try to shop for clothing in the game, your dialogue with the shopkeeper keeps being interrupted by her shouting, so I simply wanted to shop in peace.” Shirrako added that the clip was a joke, not political, and while they did not agree with the sexist comments that some left on the video, that the YouTuber did not “like censoring people’s opinions, regardless if I like them or not.”
That video was nonetheless followed with another clip where Shirrako lassos the feminist and drags her to an alligator, which then eats her. It has been viewed over 800,000 times by cheering fans.
It should be noted that Shirrako’s channel is full of such videos, seemingly showing no favoritism for any sort of person in the game. Prior to uploading the alligator footage, the YouTuber also uploaded clips where he mowed down in-game members of the KKK (778,000 views), followed by a video where he gets an incoming train to kill an lassoed KKK member (18,000 views). Days ago, the channel also uploaded clips of Shirrako beating up a politician, a character based on Hitler, an entire town, and another where the YouTuber tries and fails to kill children. However, these videos did not get the same mainstream attention.
Two days after the feminist video hubbub, Shirrako’s channel was terminated due to violations of the YouTube Community Guidelines, and an email shared with Motherboard noted that the video service does not allow for “graphic content that appears to be posted in a shocking, sensation, or disrespectful manner” and that it also does not “allow content that’s intended to incite violence or encourage dangerous activities.”
This news set off waves on YouTube, with commentators noting that it was a dangerous precedent to ban people off the platform based on what they’ve done in a video game, especially given that violence is prevalent among many popular games.
Beyond commentary videos, other YouTubers re-uploaded the clip in solidarity with Shirrako, while others petitioned YouTube executives to take another look at the case. Upon further review, YouTube reinstated Shirrako’s channel, leaving all the videos intact, but applying an age restriction to the footage.
“YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit among other things, gratuitous violence, nudity, dangerous and illegal activities, and hate speech,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Verge. “Creative formats such as video games can be challenging to assess but when content crosses the line and is flagged to our attention, we take action as necessary.”
YouTube also notes that any flagged video gets reviewed internally, and that the service removes anything that it considers rule-breaking. When asked by a journalist what was being done internally to make sure this didn’t happen again, YouTube’s head of gaming Ryan Wyatt tweeted, “Sometimes we make mistakes, which is why we have multiple escalation paths for reviewers to raise tough decisions and we give creators the right to appeal. The reviewer will be educated on this outcome and on how to avoid repeating this mistake.”
It is unclear how, exactly, YouTube decided to terminate the channel, and what the appeal process for this entire debacle was. For example, did YouTube only take another look because people with clout made a ruckus over it? If so, do smaller channels have a pathway to dispute unfair platform decisions that’s just as prompt and effective if they don’t have a big enough microphone to broadcast it? The YouTube spokesperson did not offer these answers to The Verge, but Wyatt notes on social media that he often takes a look at things people tell him about on Twitter, and encouraged people to talk to the official Team YouTube account “with as much supportive documentation you have as possible!”
Since the channel’s reinstatement, Shirrako has uploaded clips with titles such as “Deporting A Mexican,” “Hitler Gets Punched Off A Cliff,” and “Beating Up Chinese Man.”